May 21, 2024

✏️ Today's Media Trends, copy edited by Sheryl Miller, is 1,683 words, a 6½-minute read. Sign up.

πŸ‡«πŸ‡· Heading to Cannes Lions next month? Join Axios and Deep Blue Sports + Entertainment at the Women's Sports House, June 17–19.

  • Speakers include NCAA women's basketball champion and rapper Flau'jae Johnson, WNBA legend Sue Bird, Time CEO Jessica Sibley, 2x World Cup champion Ashlyn Harris, and many more.
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βš–οΈ Situational awareness: The criminal trial against Ozy Media founder and CEO Carlos Watson began yesterday in New York.

1 big thing: Scoop... Google mulls news funding cut

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Google is warning nonprofit newsrooms that the passage of a new California bill would jeopardize the firm's future investments in the U.S. news industry via its Google News Initiative program, sources told Axios.

Why it matters: This is the second time this year Google has threatened to pull investment in news in response to a regulatory threat in California β€” but this time, hundreds of publishers outside of California would also feel the impact.

Flashback: Last month, Google said it would pause further investments in California newsrooms "until there's clarity on California's regulatory environment."

  • πŸ”— That statement was made in response to a link tax bill that would essentially tax Big Tech companies for links to news content and use the revenue to fund newsrooms.

Driving the news: Google's new outreach to smaller news outlets is happening in response to a different bill, introduced this year by Democratic state Sen. Steve Glazer, that would tax Big Tech companies like Google and Meta for digital ad transactions.

  • The tax revenue would fund tax credits meant to support the hiring of more journalists in California by eligible nonprofit local news organizations.

Between the lines: With the link tax bill, Google only threatened to pull news investments in California. But the company is telling partners that the new ad tax proposal will threaten consideration of new grants nationwide by the Google News Initiative, which funds hundreds of smaller news outlets, sources told Axios.

Zoom out: Google's concern, sources familiar with the company's thinking told Axios, is that the new California ad tax bill could set a troubling wider precedent for other states.

  • California's Senate tax committee approved the ad tax bill May 8. Days after that, Google started making calls to nonprofits about potentially pausing future Google News Initiative funding, sources told Axios.

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2. 🚨 "Act of madness"... AP equipment seized in Israel

Smoke billows following Israeli strikes in the northern Gaza Strip as seen from Israel's southern border, on May 16. Photo: Gil Cohen Magen/Xinhua via Getty Images

Israeli officials seized broadcasting equipment belonging to the Associated Press on Tuesday, arguing it was used to illegally provide a live feed to Al Jazeera, whose Jerusalem bureau was shuttered by officials earlier this month following the passage of a new foreign broadcast law.

Why it matters: Press advocates have warned that the law creates a dangerous precedent for censoring independent news outlets in the region amid the ongoing war with Hamas, Axios' Barak Ravid and I write.

  • Israeli lawmakers passed the measure last month, empowering Israel's communications minister to take action against any foreign media network that it says poses a national security risk.
  • Today's seizure has already garnered sharp criticism, with Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid calling it "an act of madness."

Driving the news: AP reported that it "complies with Israel's military censorship rules, which prohibit broadcasts of details like troops movements that could endanger soldiers." It said the live shot "has generally shown smoke rising over the territory."

  • In a statement, an AP spokesperson said the wire service "decries in the strongest terms" the actions of the Israeli government.
  • "The shutdown was not based on the content of the feed but rather an abusive use by the Israeli government of the country's new foreign broadcaster law," communications executive Lauren Easton said.

The big picture: It's becoming harder to access independent journalism on the ground amid the monthslong war.

  • AP is one of few Western media outlets with a presence on the ground in Gaza.
  • Al Jazeera was one of the largest international media outlets on the ground covering the war before the raid to shutter its Jerusalem bureau.

3. πŸ“¬ Scoop: Newspaper lifeline

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Christopher Dilts/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A bipartisan group of Senators will introduce a bill today that will require the U.S. Postal Service to perform to a certain level before it can apply a surcharge to newspapers to deliver their papers.

Why it matters: Facing a delivery worker crisis, local newspapers have increasingly turned to the USPS to deliver newspapers to subscribers.

  • Newspapers previously relied on gig economy workers to distribute newspapers via their own vehicles early in the morning. The rise of ride-sharing services, like Uber and Lyft, have created alternative jobs that are often more lucrative and more flexible in terms of hours.

Zoom in: The Deliver for Democracy Act, which is being introduced by Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), is meant to provide relief to local news outlets by curbing rate increases and holding the USPS accountable for on-time delivery.

  • It requires that the USPS must either achieve at least a 95% on-time delivery rate for periodicals or improve its on-time delivery rate by at least 2 percentage points in order to be able to unlock its 2% surcharge authority for papers.

The big picture: The local news industry is facing a crisis in the digital era, prompting advocates to push for any form of relief from lawmakers, including tax credits, vouchers and government subsides.

  • Around one-third of U.S. newspapers as of 2005 will be gone by the end of 2024, one study estimates.

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4. ⏱️ Clocking "60 Minutes"

A bump chart showing the top rated news programs across broadcast and cable from 2013 to 2024. CBS 60 Minutes has held the top spot for the entire time. ABC World News Tonight and NBC Nightly news have held the 2nd and 3rd spots, respectively, while a smattering of other shows have filled the fourth and fifth spots.
Data: CBS, Nielsen; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

"60 Minutes" wrapped its 50th consecutive season as the No. 1 television news program last weekend, according to new Nielsen figures.

Why it matters: The transition to streaming and digital news has been a ratings killer for many shows. But the CBS News staple remains a juggernaut (9 million viewers on one recent Sunday).

By the numbers: The weekly Sunday evening show, which debuted in 1968, has been the top news program across cable and broadcast in terms of average viewers per show, per season, for the past 50 years.

  • Its winning streak hasn't been broken since the 1974-75 TV season.
  • This past season, the program was television's top nonsports prime-time program 15 times.
  • It has been TV's top overall prime-time program 14 times over the last three TV seasons.

The big picture: "60 Minutes" debuted in an era that had uniformity in news diets and a broad public trust in news. Now, trust in television news has collapsed to a historic low.

  • "We have protected our legacy by being consistent over all these decades," the show's executive producer Bill Owens told Axios.

Between the lines: Other broadcast news programs have also continued to attract huge audiences, even as the linear television industry declines.

  • ABC's "World News Tonight," which debuted in 1948, has consistently averaged more than 8 million viewers over the past few seasons as a daily program.

Zoom in: Part of the success of "60 Minutes" has been its ability to consistently land timely interviews with newsmakers.

  • For example, the show capped the 2023-2024 broadcast season last Sunday with a rare sit-down interview with Pope Francis.

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5. πŸ€ Amazon's big league ambitions

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Amazon continues to lay the groundwork for Prime to be to sports streaming what ESPN was to cable.

Driving the news: The tech giant is closing in on a deal to make it one of three partners with the NBA, a source with knowledge of those talks confirmed to Axios.

  • The league and Amazon have agreed to a framework of an agreement that would ultimately put a mix of regular season and playoff games on Amazon Prime.

The big picture: Adding the NBA would be the latest salvo for Amazon's quickly growing sports business.

  • The tech giant is heading into its third season as the exclusive home of the NFL's "Thursday Night Football" β€”Β for which it's paying $1 billion per year β€”Β and will air its first-ever playoff game next January.
  • In April, Amazon extended its deal with the WNBA for two more seasons.
  • Next year, Amazon will begin streaming NASCAR races, including the racing circuit's new in-season tournament.

Amazon's also exerting its influence on the local TV side.

  • It's backing Diamond Sports Group's attempt to emerge from bankruptcy with a $115 million investment that would make Prime Video the streaming home for teams carried by Bally Sports networks.
  • Amazon is also helping Diamond in its negotiations with the NBA on new local TV deals, per Puck, an essential element for the beleaguered RSN group to exit bankruptcy.

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Go deeper: Sign up for Axios Pro Media Deals authored by Tim Baysinger and Kerry Flynn.

6. πŸ—£οΈ Scarlett Johansson vs. OpenAI

Scarlett Johansson and Sam Altman. Photos: Taylor Hill/WireImage, Joel Saget/AFP via Getty Images

Many people think one of OpenAI's new voices for ChatGPT sounds awfully like Scarlett Johansson in the AI romance movie "Her."

  • It turns out she does too β€” and she has lawyered up.

Why it matters: The dispute between the maker of ChatGPT and a performer famous for representing AI will further spook creative artists already suspicious that AI could dilute the value of their work.

Driving the news: OpenAI announced yesterday it was putting a "pause" on offering a voice for ChatGPT known as "Sky" that users have noted sounds like the AI assistant Johansson played in the 2013 film.

  • In a statement last night, Johansson said she turned down an offer from OpenAI CEO Sam Altman last September to use her voice for ChatGPT.
  • Johansson said she was "shocked, angered and in disbelief" to hear how much the AI voice resembled hers.
  • She added that OpenAI hit "pause" on Sky after her lawyers demanded the company "detail the exact process" it used to develop the voice.

The intrigue: Johansson claimed Altman made the case last year that her voice would be "comforting to people" and "could bridge the gap between tech companies and creatives."

  • Johansson said Altman contacted her agent two days before the GPT-4o demo asking her to reconsider, but the system was released "before we could connect."

Altman said, "The voice of Sky is not Scarlett Johansson's, and it was never intended to resemble hers."

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7. Digital decay

A bar chart showing the share of web pages created in the last 10 years that were inaccessible as of October 2023. Among web pages created in 2013, 38% were inaccessible. For web pages created in 2023, 8% were inaccessible.
Data: Pew Research Center; Chart: Axios visuals

There are hundreds of billions of indexed web pages online, but many won't survive very long.

By the numbers: More than one-third (38%) of webpages that existed in 2013 are no longer available today, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

  • Around 8% of web pages that existed in 2023 are no longer available today.

Why it matters: The data shows just how fleeting content is on the internet.

  • Evidence of "digital decay," or disappearing and nonfunctioning sites, persists across the web β€” from links on government pages to news websites and Wikipedia, Pew found.
  • Nearly one-quarter (23%) of news webpages contain at least one broken link, as do 21% of webpages from government sites.